My Brilliant Career: Sybylla's dress

My Brilliant Career: Sybylla's dress
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Original costume from My Brilliant Career, worn by Judy Davis as Sybylla in the boating scene with Sam Neill. The rip in the hem occurred while shooting the film.

Sybylla’s white dress, designed by Anna Senior, epitomises the role of costume in helping to create and define a capricious film character. The garment’s fabric was selected because of the way the lighting highlights its lustre in the settings in which it features. It is comprised of two pieces, a bodice and skirt, and appears both in a fire-lit drawing room scene – featuring Sybylla and Uncle Julius (Peter Whitford) – and the boating scene in which Sybylla, Harry and the dress are soaked.

In each scene, the lighting creates a new look for the dress. When we first see it, the cream fabric absorbs the warmth of the drawing room firelight to create an intimate atmosphere, with Sybylla appearing vulnerable as she seeks advice from her uncle.

In the barge on the billabong, however, the intense daylight accentuates the lace detail of the dress which, framed by her striking red parasol, equips Sybylla to play the coquette. But the facade is short-lived – Sybylla the tomboy comes to the fore, capsizing the vessel and tipping herself and Harry into the water, reducing the dress to a dripping sheet. Director Gillian Armstrong uses the multiple manifestations of the frock to parallel Sybylla’s quest for identity.

Click 'View More' below to see a 360-degree view of the costume.